Set in Ireland in the 90s, Rebecca O’Connor’s debut novel traces fifteen-year-old Lani’s story as she navigates life. Lani struggles with living in a small community, experiences the bittersweet emotions of first love, and carries the weight of secrets from the past. This is a coming-of age-story with a twist. Lani’s emotional and spiritual journey is punctuated by the tales of those that surround her, her friend from school with whom she has a typical love-hate teenage relationship, her dog Blue, and the boy she falls in love with, Leon.
Although on the surface, Lani’s parents appear to be supportive, they are caught up in important events in their own lives and have no idea of the thoughts that plague her dreams at night. Lani is haunted by the stories of thirty-five orphaned girls, who are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery near her house. As it turns out, Leon’s mother too, is buried there. The plot unfolds with the relationship between the two starting to gather traction, and with it more secrets are unveiled. There is a steady undercurrent of melancholy throughout O’Connor’s lucid writing, and Lani and Leon’s fate is sealed by the unravelling of what happened in the past. The helplessness of being driven by events that they cannot control is beautifully drawn out in their terse interactions.
The rural Irish setting works in the author’s favour, with emotional baggage that manifests itself through people’s religious upbringings and also the oppressive nature of the small community, where young people can feel constantly watched and thoroughly judged. The book is well paced, slow in bits when Lani’s life seems just as normal as any other girl of that age and picking up pace as the reader is brought along the journey of the past. With a befitting end that brings to head all of Lani’s emotional reactions, this is a great summer bildungsroman to indulge in.